Acting Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said yesterday (20 March) that he would have a discussion with his eurozone colleagues about his continuation as Eurogroup president, following the electoral debacle of his party in The Netherlands.
But Dijsselbloem ruled out leaving his post, saying it was his “responsibility” to conclude his mandate.
His Labour party lost 29 seats and only retained nine deputies in the Dutch elections, held on 15 March.
After such a defeat, his chances of remaining finance minister are “extremely slim”, Dijsselbloem admitted after the Eurogroup meeting on Monday.
He could be forced to leave the post before his two-and-a-half year mandate ends in January 2018.
Eurogroup internal rules stipulate that “candidates for the office of president must hold the position of national minister of finance”.
Pressed by journalists, the acting minister said he would talk to his colleagues “one by one” to see “how they see this situation and the future of the presidency of the Eurogroup”.
But Dijsselbloem indicated he intends to hold on to his position for as long as possible, foreseeing that the formation of a new coalition government in The Hague “may take some months”.
That is why “it is too early to say” if there would be a gap between the moment a new Dutch government takes office and the end of his mandate as Eurogroup chief. If that happens, it would be up to the ministers to decide what solutions they want to pursue, he said.
His Eurogroup colleagues, including potential candidates for the post, preferred, for the time being at least, to postpone the discussion.
“Mr Dijsselbloem is the president of the Eurogroup. He will be the president this time. He will certainly be the next time,” said French Finance Minister Michel Sapin.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble insisted that Dijsselbloem is a “good” president, stressing that his mandate runs until 2018.
Similar support was expressed by Austrian Finance Minister Jörg Schelling.
Some of his colleagues praised the Dutchman’s command of complex dossiers, such as the Greek bailout programme.
Pierre Moscovici, EU Commissioner for Economic Affairs, described him as “a very good president”. He is “extremely competent and extremely appreciated by his colleagues”. His contribution is “important and precious”, notably in the case of Greece, the French Commissioner added.
Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos, who is one of the top candidates to succeed him, kept his powder dry at this stage.
“In principle, I am not a candidate for anything,” he told reporters on his way in to the Eurogroup. Guindos unsuccessfully challenged the Dutch politician in July 2015.
But he complained that the rules are “a bit evanescent”.
EU sources explained that the requirement of being a national minister applies only to candidates but not to those already in the post.
The sources also noted that the functioning rules of the Eurogroup could be amended by the ministers.
Although the legal argument could play in Dijsselbloem’s favour, Guindos framed the discussion as an issue of “legitimacy” after the electoral defeat.
“This is an issue of legitimacy and common sense, and I am sure that Dijsselbloem and all of the rest will apply common sense,” he said.
The political equilibrium at the EU’s helm could block Guindos’ path toward the presidency and favour another candidate.
EU leaders have already expressed their “unhappiness” about the concentration of EU top posts in the hands of the European People’s Party (EPP).
To date, the EPP holds the presidencies of the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council.
The Socialists only control the Eurogroup and the office of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, held by Federica Mogherini.
Against this backdrop, Dijsselbloem could find additional arguments to convince the ministers not to launch a procedure to remove him from the post at this stage.
Even more given the difficulties facing progress on the Greek bailout programme and, more broadly, the turbulence expected during the Brexit negotiations.
Among the Socialists, one of the names floated for the post is Slovak Finance Minister Peter Kažimír.
The procedure to elect the Eurogroup President is vaguely described in the treaty of Lisbon, protocol 14.
Additional details were given in the internal working methods set in October 2008.
The rules did not stipulate what may happen if the president is no longer a minister. They say that if the president of the Eurogroup resigns, a new president would be selected “as soon as possible.”
The candidates must hold the position of national minister of finance. They should have acquired some experience and familiarity with the workings of the Eurogroup and enjoy general recognition for their knowledge in EMU matters. Their selection should take place irrespective of nationality and by giving equal treatment to candidates from all countries.
It adds that the president shall be elected by simple majority of Eurogroup members. However, regarding election procedures, useful lessons can be drawn from the Economic and Financial Committee, which has always managed to elect its president by consensus although its rules require simple majority.
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